Posts by Naheed Patel

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in reports on arts and culture from Spain, India, and Bangladesh

This week, as ever, we are eager to share stories from around the globe. Today we’re checking in with Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James in Spain, Editor-at-Large Naheed Patel in Bangladesh, and Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan in India. 

And don’t forget to check out our Fall 2016 issue here!

First, we drop in on Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, with the scoop on Spain:

2016 marked the 400th Anniversary of Cervantes’s Death, but much of the Spanish public felt more time was moving in between their two rounds of inconclusive elections, so much so that they decided to avoid a third one, projected over Christmas, and are able now to focus on their budding literary scene. In Madrid, the Prado Museum is making history in the visual arts with a show dedicated to the art of painter Clara Peeters. She will be the first female artist with her own show in the museum’s two-hundred-year history.

In another surprise turn, Spain’s major poetry festival in the city of Córdoba, Cosmopoética, celebrated its lucky thirteenth iteration from September 25 through October 8. The theme this year was Dada and the festival welcomed international and homegrown writers alike, such as Julieta Valero, Fani Papageorgiou, and  Chantal Maillard.

While Spain harbors many fans of Bob Dylan, a good deal of the Spanish literary community was puzzled by the Nobel Prize news. Some, however, took the announcement with great humor, imagining the messages between the silent winner and an increasingly desperate Swedish Academy. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Egypt, Bangladesh, the ALTA conference and on the recent Nobel Prize list.

Welcome to this edition of Asymptote’s weekly update, a hop, step, and jump tour de force bringing you the latest from three continents of literature in translation. To kick off, our Egyptian Editor-at-Large Omar El Adi sends us his bulletin, including news on literary prizes and an upcoming event in London. We then zoom in on Bangladesh, where Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel reports on recent festivals and the passing of Bangla authors. Also, US-based Assistant Editor Julia Leverone visited the ALTA conference so you didn’t have to. And finally Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan gives us the round-up from the literary world on the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. 

Editor-at Large Omar El Adi has the latest literary news from Egypt:

The inaugural annual lecture of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be given by Palestinian author Anton Shammas at the British Library in London on 14 October. The jury for this year’s prize includes last year’s winning translator Paul Starkey, professor of Arabic Zahia Smail Salhi, writer and journalist Lucy Popescu, and literary consultant and publisher Bill Swainson. Paul Starkey’s 2015 win came for his translation of Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (2014). An excerpt of Rakha’s third book Paulo (forthcoming in English) was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Asymptote. The winner of the prize will be announced this December.

In Alexandria, Tara Al-Bahr, an interactive online platform, is launching its second print edition with original essays as well as translations into Arabic on the topics of cultural and artistic practices and urban change in contemporary Alexandria. Tara Al-Bahr launched in May this year, and its second printed edition came out on Thursday, 6 October.

The Facebook group Alexandria Scholars is commencing a series of talks, titled “The City Dialogue Series”, with the support of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and curated by the sociologist Amro Ali. The first lecture, “Alexandria and the search for meaning”, was on 10 October and explored solutions to the city’s problems “through the terrain of historical, urban, and philosophical analysis”. Future events involving writers, academics, political figures, and researchers have already been planned for November and December.

In publishing news, Mohamed Rabie’s Otared (2016) was released in English translation in September by AUC Press. The novel was shortlisted for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2016 and is set in a dystopian post-revolutionary Egypt. An excerpt is available here.

Halal If You Hear Me, a forthcoming anthology of writings by Muslims who are queer, women, gender nonconforming or transgender, is calling for submissions. Editors Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo are looking for submissions of up to five poems or two essays, including a cover letter with contact info and a short bio. Those interested should email halalifyouhearme@gmail.com before 1 December, 2016.

Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel shares some stories from the neighbouring Bangladesh:

Next month sees Bangladesh’s capital revving up for the annual Dhaka Literary Festival, which runs from November 17-19.  The festival has been held at the historic Bangla Academy since 2012, and is directed and produced by Sadaf Saaz, Ahsan Akbar, and K. Anis Ahmed. In the face of numerous recent Freedom of Expression violations in Bangladesh, the festival marks a resurgence of Bangladeshi literary culture, reaching across a number of different disciplines and genres: from fiction and literary non-fiction to history, politics and society; from poetry and translations to science, mathematics, philosophy and religion. The festival has more than 20,000 attendees and past contributors include Vikram Seth, Tariq Ali, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Ahdaf Soueif, Shashi Tharoor, Jung Chang, and Pankaj Mishra as well famous writers of Bangla literature like Hasan Azizul Huq, Selina Hossain, Debesh Roy, and Nirmalendu Goon.

In August and September Bangladesh mourned the passing of two prominent Bangla poets. Author, poet, and playwright Syed Shamsul Haq died at the age of 81 in Dhaka on September 27, 2016, and renowned Bangladeshi poet Shaheed Quaderi passed away in New York at the age of 74 on August 28, 2016. Haq was given the Bangla Academy Award in 1966 and the Ekushey Padak, the highest national award of Bangladesh, in 1984. He was also honored with a Swadhinata Padak in 2000 for his contribution to Bangla Literature. Payer Awaj Paoa Jay’ [We Hear the Footsteps] and Nuruldiner Sara Jibon [The Entire Life of Nuruldin], his most popular plays, are considered to be cornerstones of Bangladeshi theatre. Shaheed Quaderi received the Ekushey Padak in the category of Language and Literature in 2011 and was previously awarded the Bangla Academy Award in 1973. Prominent Bengali scholars such as Kabir Chowdhury, Kaiser Haq, and Farida Majid have translated his poems into English.

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In Conversation with Vikram Chandra

"We have never been modern, and our newer forms—which are all hybrids—never have either."

Vikram Chandra was born in New Delhi and graduated from Pomona College (in Claremont, near Los Angeles) in 1984. His first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, was written over several years while getting an MA at Johns Hopkins and an MFA at the University of Houston. While writing Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram taught literature and writing, and moonlighted as a computer programmer and software and hardware consultant. Red Earth and Pouring Rain received outstanding critical acclaim. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize for Fiction.

A collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, was published in 1997 and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book; was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize; and was included in “Notable Books of 1997” by the New York Times Book Review. A novel, Sacred Games, was published in 2006 and won the Hutch Crossword Award for English Fiction for 2006 and a Salon Book Award for 2007; it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

Vikram made his nonfiction debut with Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code,The Code of Beauty published by Graywolf Press in 2014, which was described as an “unexpected tour de force” by the New York Times Book Review. Geek Sublime dwells upon the points of intersection between writing, coding, art, technology, Sanskrit and ancient Indian literature and philosophy.

***

Naheed Patel: Your latest book, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty is quite a literary hybrid: part craft essay, part history of computer programming, part social commentary on Silicon Valley, and part treatise on Sanskrit philosophy. All these various part form a seamless mosaic that works to enlighten and totally fascinate the reader in equal measure. How did you make this magic happen?

Vikram Chandra: As is usually the case with writing, through endless rounds of revision, periods of complete frustration and despair, and fumbling around trying to discover the right shape for what I was trying to build.  I actually found this more difficult to do in non-fiction than I have before with fiction.  When I’m writing fiction, I have the characters to guide me; even though there are moments of unknowing and paralysis, I can always trust that if I’m patient and I keep following the characters, I’ll eventually figure out the architecture.  But with non-fiction, or at least this particular non-fiction, it was much harder.  I didn’t have the linear velocities of a plot to draw me forward, so it was much more—as you say—like building a mosaic, putting small pieces together and trying to see the patterns.  The epiphany about the overall structure came very very late in the process, compared to all my other books, and this was scary.  So much of writing is just keeping faith that you’ll work out what kind of beast you’re actually making, and this can wear on you. READ MORE…

Conversations in Absentia/Invisible Voices: the 2015 Indo-American Arts Council Literary Festival

"It creates a desperately needed space to discuss, underscore, and broadcast South Asian writing in one of the world’s largest literary capitals."

The first thing one notices at the venue of the 2nd annual Indo-American Arts Council Literary Festival is the number of Indians in various gradations of “Indian Attire”—from the skimpy Bollywood sari, to the elegant Kanjivaram, to the ubiquitous sherwani with a baseball cap. Such South Asian exuberance against the drab backdrop of Hunter College’s linoleum floors, dubious escalators, and gray dry-wall is enough to pique anyone’s interest, let alone a bunch of homesick Indian bibliophiles waiting to take selfies with their favorite writers.

An ambitious attempt on the part of the Indo-American Arts Council, led by director Aroon Shivdasani, the Festival gathers together prominent Subcontinental voices as diverse as Salman Rushdie, Suketu Mehta, Meena Alexander, Padma Lakshmi and Mira Nair, as well as emerging writers like Sharbari Ahmed, Raghu Karnad, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, Mira Jacob, and Tanwi Nandini Islam.

Only two years old, the Festival is in its nascent stages, and perhaps that is why the panel discussions at times felt disjointed, as did its choice of panelists. The topics often veered sharply from the literary into an ersatz representation of South Asian identity—India’s rich, politicized literary landscape got less than its proper share of attention in what is supposed to be a festival of literature. The opening panel comprised of Salman Rushdie and Suketu Mehta in conversation with Amitava Kumar, although brimful of witty lines and pictorial anecdotes, often detoured from a discussion on writing by these accomplished authors into scattered riffs on their pasts, their political affiliations, and their sense of belonging to the “Old Boys’ Club” of Bombay writers. These digressions not only alienated younger audience members but also missed the opportunity to center the discussion on the writers’ craft. To make matters worse, there were not enough checks and balances to prevent an audience member from indulging in frivolous and self-promoting questions, only to waste precious panel time. Also, conspicuous by their absence at the Festival were diaspora writers such as Vandana Khanna, Srikant Reddy, and Nalini Jones, just to name a few, who would have added greater value to the panels, but who were, for reasons unknown, not included.

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New in Translation: Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt

Our India editor-at-large reviews Naja Marie Aidt's long-awaited first novel.

 

See here a picture of prosperous urban life—clean, quiet, well organized, polite and considerate—now lift up the top and see the unfounded rage, the explosive violence, and the metaphysical distress bubbling just under that calm surface. This is what Danish poet and writer Naja Marie Aidt conveys to us in her latest novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors (Open Letter, 2015), translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel.

Thomas O’Mally Lindström is a small business owner who lives in an upscale apartment with his girlfriend, Patricia. The novel begins with Thomas and his sister, Jenny, making arrangements for the funeral of their father, Jacques. We see Thomas as a man who has his life put together: he runs a successful stationary business with his partner, he’s in a relationship with an attractive, intelligent and kind woman, he is an affectionate brother to Jenny and a good uncle to her daughter, Alice. Thomas seems to have successfully left behind his poor, abusive childhood; in which he and Jenny had suffered at the hands of Jacques, a petty criminal and drug-pusher.

Things start to fall apart when Thomas, while helping his sister sort out Jacques’s things at his rundown apartment, finds a huge sum of money hidden in an old, broken toaster. Thomas decides to keep the money even though he knows his father probably came by it illegally. He hides the money in his basement; but it makes him sick with anxiety every time he thinks about it. At his father’s funeral a few days later, Thomas is surprised to find himself overcome with grief; he begins to sob uncontrollably when his sister Jenny hugs him after the service. The funeral is one among a number of great scenes—the generic service, the chapel’s “white walls, hard benches,” the tacky flowers, the awkward handshakes and nods, Jenny’s pretentious eulogy—all of it sets Thomas down a fresh spiral of panic. READ MORE…